What is a ghostwriter? Everything you need to know 👻

  • Writing
Contra Tips
· 6 min read

What is a ghostwriter, and how can you make a living writing in other people’s voices? We’ve got tips for starting out in this lucrative and dynamic job.

Writing is one of the oldest forms of human expression, going back thousands of years.  But that doesn’t mean it’s everyone’s cup of tea.

For as long as writing has existed, there have been people who, for whatever reason, just don’t care to do it. That’s where ghostwriters come in. Think you have a way with words? If so, ghostwriting could be a great way to start your journey as an Independent.

Writing under someone else’s name is a lucrative job for any talented writer who’s not necessarily concerned about getting credit for their work. So what is a ghostwriter, and how do you become one (without a seance)? Here’s what you need to know.

What is a ghostwriter? 🥸

A ghostwriter is a professional wordsmith who produces content for someone else, often working as an Independent or contractor. Ghostwritten content is not published under the author’s name but that of the client they work with. Perhaps the most well-known market for ghostwriting is celebrity memoirs. In addition to A-lister “autobiographies,” ghostwriters may write for bloggers, business owners, health professionals, or other public figures.

A ghostwriter has the skill to take a large swath of information, be it a life story or academic research, and translate it into an entertaining and accurate piece of writing. Each type of ghostwriting presents unique challenges, so a writer must demonstrate versatility.

What does a ghostwriter do? 📚

A ghostwriter's responsibilities are fluid, depending on the genre of writing. Online ghostwriters, for example, often write for company websites or blogs. They usually receive a "brief" from a client that contains main ideas, points to include, internal company links, keywords, and other info relevant to the project. The writer then fleshes out a complete manuscript that follows the client's specifications.

Similarly, ghostwriters for prominent figures will base their assigned book or article on information provided by the client. This info is acquired via interviews, voice recordings, or notes taken throughout a lifetime. A ghostwriter then distills this information into a coherent and compelling narrative delivered in the client's voice.

Some examples of pieces that might be ghostwritten are

  • Memoirs: These life stories are often written for prominent figures who don’t have the time or skills to write them themselves.
  • Fiction and non-fiction books: Many popular titles that line the shelves at bookstores and libraries were written by ghostwriters, especially when the original author is unable to keep up with demand.
  • Speeches: Many politicians employ ghostwriters for their speeches and press releases.
  • Scripts: Ghostwriters often help clean up scripts for primary authors.
  • Social media posts. From Instagram captions to Facebook polls, social media ghosts help companies and high-profile individuals maintain a regular online presence.
  • Blogs. Virtually every brand has an attached blog these days, and they all need someone to write their content.
  • Book proposals or white papers. Some ghostwriters are contracted to write documents for business transactions that require clear, concise, and detailed language.

Sounds intriguing? If so, there’s plenty of ghostwriting work to be had. But don’t expect to gain widespread acclaim. It isn’t a great avenue for establishing a personal brand, as ghostwriters are rarely credited for their work.

How to become a ghostwriter 🌐

It takes hard work and dedication to make it as a professional writer, and ghostwriting is no different. There’s often a focus on producing anonymous branded and professional content for ghostwriters, meaning they have to set aside their egos. Here are a few essential skills and tips on how to become a ghostwriter:

  • Proper training: Often, this will be a post-secondary degree in English, journalism, or another discipline that prioritizes written communication. Although ghostwriting differs from these fields of study in many ways, the requisite research and organization skills are paramount.
  • Networking: Although it’s not for everyone, it's a crucial resource. If spontaneous social interaction isn’t your thing, working with a ghostwriting service could help grow your network while teaching you crucial social media and content marketing skills.
  • Interviewing: Online ghostwriting is primarily based on content briefs, but ghosting for a public figure requires a deep understanding of them, likely acquired through numerous interviews. Pay attention to the client's manner of storytelling to capture both their voice and the information being relayed.
  • Practice makes perfect: If you already consider yourself a writer, you know this: Writing is the same as any skill—the more you practice, the better.
  • Location: Working remotely is increasingly becoming the norm. Still, for some kinds of ghostwriting, it's essential to be in locations where people will require your services, especially if interviews are needed. Celebrity-heavy cities such as New York or Los Angeles are home to ideal populations.

Aside from these universal aspects, a good ghostwriter must consider other job-specific factors. Examples include subject matter, brand, and client's voice. Regardless of the audience, ghostwriting must exhibit clarity and professionalism.

How much do ghostwriters make? 💰

As with any independent work, a ghostwriter’s pay varies with the position.

Bloggers and social media content creators will likely be paid hourly or per word. Ghostwriters can expect to make between $0.20 and $4 per word or $40 and $140 per hour, contingent on the client’s budget and the importance they place on online writing.

Larger projects, such as books or political campaigns, will often be compensated with a lump sum. Sometimes this can be divided, with a down payment up front and the rest upon completion. Extensive or time-consuming ghostwriting projects can pay anywhere from $2,000 to $70,000, depending on the amount of research, the length of the book, and the contract’s time constraints. Occasionally, ghostwriters are credited as a co-author on a work. This, too, can affect earnings.

On some projects, ghostwriters have a chance to negotiate their pay. Public figures or publishers may seek out a well-established ghost, giving the writer plenty of leverage. During negotiations, they may ask for royalties or a percentage of sales. Although this might come at the cost of upfront compensation, royalties and shares are often a reliable source of passive income after the piece is published.

Feeling inspired? 🌠

Is ghostwriting suited to your lifestyle and skills? Start by promoting yourself and showcasing your work. A platform such as LinkedIn or Contra is an excellent place to make your skills known. Whether you're just starting your freelance journey or searching for a well of new clients, Contra and our incredible roster of Independents are here to help.

Time Management for Independents ⏰ by The Contrarian

Knowing how to manage your time will allow you to take on more projects, meet deadlines, and leave space for your own hobbies and interests!
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